First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


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Just You Wait

Sermon ~ Sunday ~ March 25  ~ Pastor Neil Wilson 

Just You Wait

John 12: 12-19

Like his recounting of the evening of the Last Supper, in John’s account of Jesus’ “triumphal” entry in to Jerusalem John seems to take a different vantage point than those of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In his version of the Last Supper John focuses on Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples (last week’s message) and says little of the actual meal.  In fact, all he says is, “The evening meal was being served. . . “   

In today’s reading of what we now refer to as Palm Sunday, while the others seem to devote a great deal of words to the subplot of how the disciples found a suitable animal and how they were to locate the place they were to gather, for John it is all about the celebratory character of Jesus’ procession into the holy city.  There are also a couple of other little notes of interest.  We call this day Palm Sunday but it is only in John’s account that palms are mentioned.  In the other three, people cut generic “branches” and throw them and their cloaks on the road before Jesus.  The palm branches in John perhaps carry a political meaning more obvious to John’s readers than to us.  They would know well the two passages found in the Apocryphal books 1 and 2 Maccabees describing the victory of the Maccabees over their gentile overlords.  Palm fronds are used then as symbols of celebration and the victory over their oppressors.    

Matthew and Luke tell of the procession that leads straight to the temple where the surprising and troubling depiction of an angry Jesus clearing the money-changers and their tables out of his Father’s house.  Mark’s account tells of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem with great fanfare, but then simply looks around, decides its late and heads back out of town!  It is the following day that Jesus returns and clears the temple.     

John on the other hand focuses squarely on the entry into Jerusalem and adds details that serve only to make sure the reader understands just how momentous an occasion this is.  It is a sign of Jesus’ sovereignty and a foreshadowing of how his final victory would take place.  And for added twist, tells how there were those looking for Jesus because they were there when this little incident took place in Bethany with this fellow Lazarus.

Its Passover, festival time, imagine the Fourth of July with a little Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day thrown in for good measure!  There are crowds of happy people.  Then there are the antagonists, a bunch of despondent Pharisees.  And while the group of disciples may not understand what is happening in the moment, John assures us that they will soon realize the significance of this grand, heroic entry.

This account (for that matter all the gospels) but especially John’s, is written to people several decades after the events in the story happened.  In other words they were written to people who know the story.  They’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends!  And just like any of us who’ve seen a movie before and are watching it with someone who hasn’t, we might be tempted to say,  “But just you wait!”

  Just you wait!

 You heard about what Jesus did with Lazarus?  I know you did, you are going around spreading the news about It.   Just you wait!

You think this parade with Jesus on a donkey is something to celebrate (Which it is!)  Just you wait!

Like those who first heard these words of John, we are both reassured of where the story is going and invited to be join the victor’s side.  We can enter Holy Week with our heads  high, with the foreknowledge that the one riding in on that donkey is without doubt the king of Israel, the promised Messiah, and the conqueror of death. 

Yes, our problems are real, and our sins many,  tomorrows news feeds will be filled with bad news and often things still get worse before they improve.   None of this is denied here, but just you wait!  The final victory is assured.  

This assurance encourages you and I to become part of the Palm Sunday crowd, and not just the one that recognizes the king of Israel and waves branches in the air.  The crowd that shouts “Hosanna!” continues to give witness about Jesus’ resurrecting power, even after the events of this day.  For those who are convinced of Jesus’ victory over death, anything less than exuberance and full commitment to the cause seem lacking.   

John knows all too well that there will be another crowd shouting just as loudly, “Crucify! Crucify!”  But as one biblical commentator points out, John’s final depiction of a large crowd with palms is found in his writing called the Apokalypsis of John or as it is more commonly known Revelation.  In chapter seven John describes the vision he has been given,

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne  and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”  

These are the ones who see with their very eyes the victorious lamb who was slain.

Just you wait! 

Just you wait you Herods of the world, who want to maintain control through corrupt political power! 

Just you wait all you Caiaphases who abuse and misuse your religious authority! 

Just you wait you Pontius Pilots, who want to wash your hands of the problems of others. Not my problem!  Not in my back yard.

Just you wait all you scribes and Pharisees who with self-righteous sight see only the speck of sawdust in the eyes of others and not the logs in your own!

John’s triumphal entry begins Holy Week with great pomp, and in doing so previews the joyous day that is still to come.  As an Easter people, we look back on that first Palm Sunday already knowing the outcome.  We can therefore not only fully participate in a festive procession of palms; we can also give up our spot on the sidelines and join Jesus’ side with confidence. 

Christ has won.  Death has found its match. 

True, the worst is yet to occur as far as Holy Week is concerned, but in the end, well,

just you wait! 

If even the Pharisees could recognize way back then that “the world has gone after him,” then what are we still waiting for today?

With our palm branches in hand, let us join the procession and go forth into our world and be the difference Christ calls us to be.

Enjoy the Audio version by selecting “Download File” and then opening on your desktop.  Easter Week Blessings to each who read and listen.


Seven Essential Questions: What Brings Fulfillment?

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 18th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: What Brings Fulfillment?

John 13:1-5, 12-17

 

In our Essential Questions of Faith series we’ve asked “Who Is Jesus?”  “What Matters Most?” and “Am I Accepted?” Today we probe the question: 

What brings fulfillment? 

Perhaps you would choose other descriptive term: contentment, joy, satisfaction, or as Pastor Rick Warren made popular: purpose.  What brings purpose to life?  

What word might you use to describe that state of being I’m trying to capture when I say, “fulfillment?”

How would you describe a “fulfilled life”?  When you look back over your life, when did you feel a sense of fulfillment?

In our gospel passage, Jesus is closing in on the end of his time on this earth.  I wonder, do you think he was feeling some pressure to “wrap things up,” complete his work; perhaps to fulfill his purpose?

If he did, I believe it might have been articulated in the second sentence of verse one.   “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  The NIV Bible says it this way, “. . . he now showed them the full extent of his love.” 

How does he go about demonstrating the “full extent of his love”?  

He gets up, takes off his outer clothing, ties a towel around his waist, and begins washing their feet. 

For Jesus fulfillment of his earthly ministry was found in loving service.  Jesus takes on the role of a household servant.  As Paul would write to the Philippians, using what is thought by some to be a portion of an early Christian hymn:        

he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

Jesus serves his disciples. The one they looked to as their “Master” they now see stooped before them, washing the day’s dirt off their calloused heals and chipped grubby toe nails.  Peter wouldn’t have any of this until Jesus reminded him that, “Unless I wash you (serve you), you will have no part with me.”  

To which Peter says “Well if that’s the case, then here are my hands and my head as well!”

After he has given the disciples this compelling example of his love, Jesus says to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?”

Then he talks them through how if he, their teacher/rabbi did this for them, then how do they think they should treat one another. 

He concludes by reminding them and through them instructing us, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  . . .  Now that you know these things you are blessed if you do them.”

I ask you, what could be more fulfilling than to know God’s blessing on your lives?  I cannot think of anything right off hand! 

If you what to be more like Jesus . . . serve. 

If you want your life to have more meaning, to experience some fulfillment . . .serve.

Jesus found fulfillment of his mission in serving others to the end.  Ultimately this meant execution by crucifixion for what he believed in and for the salvation of those he loved.

I don’t think that Jesus intended such an act in order to find fulfillment for all of us, crucifixion that is!  But I truly believe whether I act on it often enough or not, satisfaction with life comes through service.

 

You know, I’ve done many things in life that were fun, exciting, were adrenaline rushes, (I am a confessed adrenaline junkie!)

After 40 plus years I finally realized a dream I had to fly some sort of aircraft.  

I love to travel even though I haven’t done it as much as I hoped I would have by this point.  I plan on doing more!  More travel, more adrenaline fixes, more flying.

I’ve been complimented on occasion for something I might have said in a sermon or two.  (I’ve also been criticized!)  In a former life I received accolades for my skills with a chainsaw and ability to work a difficult logging site with minimal damage to the residual stand. 

But in all these things I’ve never found the greater sense of fulfillment, call it satisfaction, that I find whenever I am serving someone or some cause beyond what is solely a personal benefit to me.  I first noticed something about this as a boy of perhaps twelve or thirteen.  You see, I had an uncle who had muscular dystrophy or maybe it was polio.  (You know I don’t know as I was ever was told.)  All I knew is that he wore metal braces on both legs and it was difficult for him to get around.  Once he finagled his way into the seat could operate equipment.  He had a small excavating business. For several years my aunt had some horses and one summer he needed help getting hay in.  About all he was able to do was drive the truck around to pick up the bales. 

It had been a long day already.  I’d had probably been caddying at the golf course that morning.  That afternoon probably worked in our vegetable gardens and then just before supper I had taken care of Sadie and Brownie,our two milk cows.   When my father got home he said he needed help getting Uncle Kenny’s hay in before the rain forecast for the following day.  I was twelve or thirteen, what do you think my initial response was?! 

Yet, later that evening as we were driving the last load of hay off the hillside field, and the whippoorwills were beginning their evening chorus, I remember my father saying something rather philosophical for him (He was not a sentimental person!)  “This feels really good tonight, getting this hay in.”

And I remember to this day how I felt at that moment.  There was a rush of goodness, one of those rare fleeting moments when one might be able to say, as Robert Browning wrote in his poem “Pippa’s Passes” “God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”

I’m not sure that as a preadolescent boy I could fully express it at that point but I had an inkling that real “happiness” (The word I would have used at the time.) was to be experienced in helping others and not in doing things I considered necessarily “fun.”  It was one of those moments in which we find ourselves taking a bit of a leap in maturity; we are not the child we were before.  It amazes me that I still recall it vividly today some 50 years later.     

Having loved his own who were in the world,

   he now showed them the full extent of his love. . . .   

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

I pray that each of us will know more and more the fulfillment and blessing that comes through, if not a life, then occassional acts of service to others following the example and the name of Jesus!

You will be blessed! 

Enjoy the audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon below:


Lost Boys of Sudan – Special Speaker

Lual Awan Deng, a friend of Dr. Bill & Betty Wadland,  shared both during worship and after about his experience as one of the “lost boys of Sudan.”

In 1987, Sudan’s Muslim government pronounced death to all males in the Christian south: 27,000 boys fled to Ethiopia on foot. In 1991, they were forced to flee to Kenya a journey of 1,000 miles.  12,000 survived to live in U. N. refugee camps.

Lual’s story about his life in Africa, his life since coming to the United States and the work he is now involved with reaching back to the people of South Sudan is remarkable, inspiring and well worth hearing.  Make plans to invite a neighbor or friend and join us next week!  

The following is the website that tells  more about the work that Lual and his friend     Jacob Atem are doing in South Sudan.              www.sshco.org 

Below are some of the few documentaries that documented the story of the Lost boys of Sudan.  The first one is a 12 minutes video form 60minutes (CBS). This is very educational because it gives a brief overview about the Lost Boys of Sudan.  The next one is an hour movie that followed some boys in the USA cities.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-R5YNZxj2E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5N_qKbHHWw

 

Due to the size of the file we are unable to share Lual’s time with us this past Sunday.  If you are interested in hearing it, I will be happy to email it to you.

 

Thank you and God Bless you!

 


Seven Essential Questions: Am I Accepted?

Sermon ~ Sunday, March 4th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

Seven Essential Questions: Am I Accepted?

John 8:1-11

What makes a person (you or me) acceptable to God? 

Is it a life of great deeds?      Great commitments to worthy causes? 

Perhaps it is a life of simple humility with wisdom?     

Is it being a person of unshakeable trustworthiness?  Or a good reputation?

How about great compassion?

We might say these, and many other ways define an acceptable person before God.  As well as striving for the right, the right way to act, to live. 

Is the person lacking these qualities unacceptable before God, a “sinner?” 

If so, what turns one who is unacceptable, a “sinner” into a person of honor?  

Is it even possible?

In our reading this morning, presented with a “sinner,” a person of unacceptable reputation and behavior, Jesus turned the question of condemnation back on the supposedly honorable leaders of his community.  And then he gave the possibility of change, call it conversion, repentance, whatever, to one considered unacceptable.  And he did it with a simple change in the point of view.  Jesus looked at the “sinner” from God’s perspective not the human.

We know the story.  It is morning, a crowd of people have gathered around the Rabbi Jesus.  He sits down, as rabbis do when they teach, and begins his lessons for the day.  Somewhere in the middle of his instruction the religious leaders barge in with this woman they claim to have caught in the act of adultery.  (I’ve often wondered what the religious leaders were up to that they actually caught this woman “in the act.”  I’ve also wondered where the man was because the Law is clear that, if this is the case, he also is guilty.)

They ask Jesus what they should do with her.  They remind him that she has broken God’s law and the Law says she should be stoned to death.  Of course, according to the law they were supposed to bring two witnesses.  Where were they? 

It becomes apparent that this is all a scheme to trap Jesus.  If he chose fulfillment of the law, he would seem cold-hearted in the eyes of those gathered to listen to him.  If he chose compassion, he would be seen as one who disrespected the “Law” and is “soft on crime.”

Jesus does something next that must have frustrated the religious leaders to no end.  He stoops over and begins doodling in the dirt with his finger!  They keep asking him over and over, “Teacher what should we do?”

After a bit, Jesus straightens up and turns to the religious leaders first. 

“Let the person who has never broken God’s Law throw the first stone at her.”

Then he bends over and resumes writing in the dirt.  And we are told that the religious leaders left one by one, beginning with the elders. 

When Jesus added this condition to the Law it made it impossible for them to follow through on the punishment.  Since no one could keep the Law perfectly, no one could be the perfect (sinless) witness.  Sinners accusing others of sin was and is the height of hypocrisy.

 After they all left Jesus straightens up, looks around, only he and this woman are left. “Woman, (which would be like us saying “Ma’am”) isn’t there anyone here who says you are guilty?”

“No one sir.”

“Well, I don’t say you’re guilty either.  Go your way and leave your life of sin.”

The Law breaker has found grace. 

The Unacceptable has become the accepted. 

The unlovable is the beloved.

This is the Good News. 

Now for many of you this may not be something you ever give much thought to.  Perhaps you grew up in a home where it was safe; you were cared for; you were loved and told you were loved.  But some were not.  Perhaps it wasn’t at home; perhaps it was in school, maybe on the playground.  You were ridiculed for your athletic ineptitude.  You’re the last to be chosen and then placed out in right field.  And as you make your way out there you hear someone say, “No one hits the ball to right field anyway.”

So perhaps for those of us who never really had to struggle with our sense of self-worth and acceptableness, the more appropriate question might be “Who do I find acceptable?”

The world goads us on to judge others.

Whether it is the peer pressure of that school playground or today’s social media sites such as Facebook posts or Twitter “tweets” (I wonder why we shouldn’t call some twitter tweets “twits.”  This seems more appropriate to their content or lack thereof!)  But it isn’t limited to Social media, oh no!  This has been going on for generations around tables where people have played cards and yes, sadly it even happens around many a church coffee hour table. 

We are quick to judge, attach a label, to think we know all that we need to know, about another person or their circumstances.   

So a cautionary word is needed here, in this story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, we must be careful that we do not find ourselves among those holding stones!

Jesus gently invites and encourages us in living a life of humility and honest assessment of ourselves with a generous spirit towards others in our community.  While we are constantly being invited and tempted by the world’s propensity for dividing humans in to us and them – good guys and bad guys, the guilty and the guilt-free, saints and sinners – in truth we are each a little of both, every one of us.  

Whether you are feeling judged and unworthy or find yourself judging others, the lesson is the same.  Jesus speaks the same words to each of us, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”  

It is with such grace and compassion we find ourselves, no matter who we believe we are, or where we think we are in our walk with God, we are accepted.

Whenever I read this story, I wonder what this woman might have done after that encounter with Jesus.  Did she just leave like her accusers? 

Did, she perhaps, become a follower of Jesus? 

Maybe we are left wondering because we are left with the same choices, but also like this woman, even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God. 

 

Listen to this week’s audio version of Pastor Neil’s Sermon by downloading the link below; open and enjoy.